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Ethics complaint against gambling chairman dismissed

Crosby was accused of conflict on casino

Massachusetts gambling commission chairman Stephen Crosby.
Massachusetts gambling commission chairman Stephen Crosby.JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

The state ethics commission has dismissed a conflict of interest complaint against Massachusetts gambling commission chairman Stephen Crosby, citing a lack of evidence, according to a letter sent Thursday.

“Please be advised that after completing our investigation, the State Ethics Commission voted to terminate the preliminary inquiry concerning Mr. Crosby,” wrote Kelly A. Downes, chief of the agency’s enforcement division, to Michael D. Ricciuti, Crosby’s lawyer. “This matter is now closed.”

Under the rules of the ethics commission, the letter to Crosby stated, the commission is obliged to open an investigation upon receipt of a sworn complaint.

The panel received such a complaint last Oct. 1, and launched a preliminary inquiry on Oct. 16. The complaint alleged that Crosby violated the law by participating in the gambling commission’s work on the sole Eastern Massachusetts casino license after he officially recused himself from the proceedings in May 2014.

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The complaint also alleged that Crosby’s involvement continued until the commission chose Wynn Resorts over the rival Suffolk Downs project in Revere in September 2014.

The author of the complaint, whose identity the Globe does not know, offered to meet with the ethics commission to provide details. The author wrote that under a little-used provision of the conflict of interest law, Crosby’s actions could be grounds for rescinding Wynn’s casino license.

The complaint was read to the Globe last week by someone familiar with the probe.

Crosby has insisted he broke no rules, and two of his fellow commissioners — James McHugh and Enrique Zuniga — offered statements of support after the Globe first reported the ethics investigation last week.

“At no time after he recused himself on May 8 did chairman Steve Crosby offer to me publicly or privately any suggestion, opinion or hint whatsoever about how any aspect or component of the Region A licensing decision should be resolved,” said McHugh, who filled in as chairman after Crosby recused himself.

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Zuniga echoed McHugh’s comments, saying “anybody that has doubts about the process ought to just look at the record, because it’s all on the record. There’s hours and hours and hours of deliberations, the way that we arrived at the decision. There’s a transcript of everything that everybody said. And the record in its entirety tells the story — and it’s unequivocal.”

Crosby has been criticized for failing to withdraw from deliberations over the Eastern Massachusetts license as soon as he learned, in 2012, that a longtime friend and former business partner, Paul Lohnes, owned half of the Everett land where Wynn Resorts plans to build its casino.

Crosby did not reveal his relationship with Lohnes until he was questioned in August 2013 by State Police investigating the possibility that Lohnes had secret partners with criminal records.

Crosby publicly disclosed his ties to Lohnes in October 2013. In December, Crosby withdrew from the commission debate over the Everett land, leaving the meeting room when colleagues debated whether Wynn should be allowed to move forward with his application for a casino license even though at least two felons had owned some part of the land.

Several months later, after the Globe reported that Crosby attended a Kentucky Derby party at Suffolk Downs, he withdrew from deliberations over all aspects of the Eastern Massachusetts license.

The ethics complaint contained some of the allegations in Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s recently filed expanded lawsuit against the gambling commission. The city alleged that the commission repeatedly violated the state’s casino law and its own rules to make sure Wynn was granted a license.

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City officials had no comment on the dismissal of the latest complaint. “This ruling is not related to the City’s complaint,” said Bonnie McGilpin, Walsh’s press secretary. “The City and its Attorneys are focused on the litigation filed.”

Also on Thursday, Crosby sent an e-mail to gambling commission staff, in part to let them know the complaint had been dismissed.

“Although it is profoundly discouraging to have my integrity or that of the process called into question, this development yet again substantiates our pledge to operate in a ‘participatory, transparent and fair’ manner,” he wrote.

“Like any organization, we must always strive for improvement, but I sincerely believe that we are demonstrating how the best public policy decision making can be done, in a uniquely transparent and participatory manner. Our agency will remain committed to those fundamental principles, and when necessary, we will staunchly defend our commitment to those principles,” Crosby wrote.


Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.